Good News on Pay for Illinois Public Service Workers

by Anders Lindall  |  February 17, 2017

An Illinois court has given state employees a big reason to a heave a collective sigh of relief – at least for now.

St. Clair County Circuit Court Judge Robert LeChien has denied a request by the Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to dissolve an order won by AFSCME and other unions that represent state employees. That paves the way for state workers to continue to get paid on time and in full even in the absence of an enacted state budget.

Legal counsel for the unions argued that by agreeing to abide by court orders the General Assembly has in effect appropriated funds for state employee payrolls. The judge said he did not want to see state government shut down and that the evidence favored continuing to pay state employees.

Madigan plans to appeal.

“Through all state government’s chaos of the past two years, the people of Illinois have been able to rely on state workers to be there, providing important public services,” AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said. “This decision ensures that that commitment can continue.”

State workers are holding their first-ever strike authorization vote a year after Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner walked out on contract negotiations.

The governor wants to impose his own terms, including a 100 percent hike in employee costs for health care, a four-year wage and step freeze and the end of rules that prevent reckless privatization. Rauner’s proposals for huge health care cost increases and a four-year wage freeze would cut the state employees’ average pay by $10,000.

Council 31 members are deciding whether to authorize their bargaining committee to call a strike. That vote, which began Jan. 30 in each local across Illinois, ends Sunday. 

The Affordable Care Act Is Saving Lives – Now It’s Time to Save It

by Pablo Ros  |  February 17, 2017

The Affordable Care Act Is Saving Lives – Now It’s Time to Save It Terry Walker-Dampier

When politicians talk about repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), they do so as if they didn’t realize that the welfare of millions of people is at stake. Obamacare, as the law is also known, has helped up to 30 million Americans afford health insurance. And it has saved countless lives.

Terry Walker-Dampier was born with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the open spaces within the spine that puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. She lives in constant pain. She has suffered chronic back pain for most of her life with little access to medical care.

“I used to go to the emergency room and use that as my primary care doctor,” she says. “But the bills kept racking up.”

Walker-Dampier is a proud home care provider in California, as she likes to stress, and a member of United Domestic Workers (UDW)/AFSCME Local 3930. Today, thanks to the ACA, she can afford the medications that make the pain bearable. And she no longer has to choose between paying for her medical care or her daughters’ education.

But she is afraid of elected officials in Congress who have vowed to repeal the ACA. That’s why this week she attended a town hall in Modesto, California, to send a message to Rep. Jeff Denham that he must help protect Obamacare. She told her story to a standing-room-only crowd and brought many to tears.

“Nobody knows how many days and nights I’ve laid in bed with so much pain that all I can do is cry and cry,” she says. “During the day nobody knew I had the pain because I always do my work with a smile on my face. A few years ago I was so tired of this pain that I thought to myself, I’m going to take my own life. It’s not because I didn’t want to live, but I just didn’t want to live in pain.”

Next week, when members of Congress return home for Presidents’ Day and host events in their districts, working families will have a chance to speak out to protect their health care. It’s up to us to demand that lawmakers protect the lifesaving care we receive – be it the ACA, Medicaid or Medicare.

Click here to find an upcoming event with your member of Congress near you so you can tell them to protect our health care programs.

Walker-Dampier has been a home care provider for 26 years. She chose her line of work because she comes from a family of givers.

“I had loving parents,” she says. “In our home we had a table that sat 18 people, and every morning we didn’t know who was going to join our table, because my mother was a nurse and she was the giving kind. I also have sisters who work in health care. I come from a family of helping others.”

Despite the pain she lives with, Walker-Dampier puts the needs of her clients above her own. But if her health care is taken away, she says, “I don’t want to find myself right back where I started from.”

“I’m pleading for us all as a whole,” she says, “because we’re all human beings and we all need affordable health care. We all want to live with peace of mind, and we shouldn’t have to choose between medical care and putting food on the table. Without insurance, so many of us wouldn’t know what to do.”

The Financial Services Industry Doesn’t Want You to Care About This. We Do.

by Clyde Weiss  |  February 17, 2017

The Financial Services Industry Doesn’t Want You to Care About This. We Do. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez announced the fiduciary rule in April 2016.

Retirees, especially those who lack pensions, depend on their savings to last the rest of their lives. Some seek the help of financial advisers. But those advisers aren’t required to put their clients’ best interests ahead of their own. They often steer their clients towards bad choices because they get bonuses for selling the investment product. 

That’s why President Barack Obama tried to do something about it. Speaking before the AARP in 2015, he said the lack of rules regulating those advisers is “hurting millions of working and middle-class families.” To fix the problem, he proposed the “fiduciary rule,” which the Obama administration finalized in early 2016.

“You want to give financial advice, you’ve got to put your client’s interests first,” Obama explained. “You can't have a conflict of interest.” 

The financial industry will need to comply with the rule starting April 10. But there’s a catch.

President Donald Trump has put the brakes on implementing the rule, instructing his Department of Labor to review it with an eye toward undermining and perhaps eliminating it.

Trump was elected based on his campaign promises to stand up for average Americans. But this decision puts the interests of Wall Street ahead of the interests of working families and retirees, who just want advice without getting ripped off by unscrupulous advisers or brokers.

The financial services industry opposes the rule, since it stands to lose $17 billion a year it takes from mom-and-pop investors through high fees, excessive commissions and investments designed to benefit the adviser more than the client.

“Such fee structures generate acute conflicts of interest: the best recommendation for the saver may not be the best recommendation for the adviser’s bottom line,” says a 2015 report by the Obama administration’s Council of Economic Advisers.

A typical retiree who receives such “conflicted advice” could lose about “12 percent of the value of his or her savings if drawn down over 30 years,” the report said.

That’s not so good for the client, but great for the broker or adviser who is not required to put the clients’ best interests first.

“Kickbacks in the financial industry, and particularly in the annuities industry, such as lavish vacations and cash prizes, remain widespread,” according to a report by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

With so much profit on the line, the financial industry tried to block the rule in court, but a federal judge this month ruled in favor of Obama’s fiduciary rule, calling the industry’s arguments “unpersuasive” and “at odds with market realities.”

But that may not matter to Trump, who has started the process to block this rule. If he doesn’t enforce his predecessor’s common-sense rule, Trump will put Wall Street special interests before the retirement security of millions of working people.

Trump Names New Labor Secretary Nominee

by Pablo Ros  |  February 16, 2017

Trump Names New Labor Secretary Nominee Alexander Acosta

A day after we said good riddance to Andrew Puzder, President Trump named a new nominee to head the U.S. Labor Department: Alexander Acosta.

Acosta is the dean of the law school at Florida International University in Miami. He was assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil rights division and served on the National Labor Relations Board, both under President George W. Bush. He was also U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

“During a time of unprecedented attacks against labor unions and the middle class, we need a labor secretary who will truly be an advocate for working families,” said AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders. “We need someone with a demonstrated commitment to lifting wages, to enhancing retirement security, to ensuring workplace safety, to aggressive enforcement of anti-discrimination and wage and hour laws. I look forward to hearing Mr. Acosta answer tough questions on these issues.”

Puzder, a fast food CEO, backed out of his nomination after working families across the country voiced their opposition. His track record of putting profits over workers and violating labor laws made it clear that he wouldn’t have working families’ best interests in mind. Controversies from his past also called into question his personal integrity.

Working Families Win Big in New Hampshire

by Pablo Ros  |  February 16, 2017

Working Families Win Big in New Hampshire

Working families won big in New Hampshire today as state lawmakers voted to kill a so-called “right-to-work” bill.

Right-to-work scams threaten to silence workers’ voices by making it harder for them to negotiate together for better wages, benefits and working conditions. Although many states have adopted such laws – always to the detriment of working people – Granite State lawmakers have voted 36 times since the early 1980s to defeat right-to-work proposals.

State lawmakers not only did it again this year but also approved a motion to indefinitely postpone any action on right to work for at least the next two years. Even with a Republican-controlled House, Senate and Governor’s Office, elected officials did the right thing for the working people of the state, voting against this latest threat to workers’ rights 200-177.

AFSCME represents public service workers in New Hampshire, members of AFSCME Council 93, who fought hard to make today’s victory a reality. As part of a vigorous grassroots campaign, AFSCME made 30,000 calls to union members in the state, knocked on thousands of doors and sent thousands of postcards to more than 40 legislators to get them to vote no.

“Today’s vote is a victory for working families in New Hampshire and a defeat for the corporate special interests attacking working people across the country,” said AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders. "The people of New Hampshire sent a clear message today: in an unbalanced economy manipulated to benefit the wealthy few, lawmakers should make it easier, not harder, for hardworking people to come together in a union to get ahead.”

Today’s victory came one day after working people received the welcome news that thoroughly unqualified Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder withdrew his name from consideration just one day before his confirmation hearing was set to begin before the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee.

Good Riddance. Puzder Out as Labor Secretary Nominee

by Jesse Berney  |  February 15, 2017

Good Riddance. Puzder Out as Labor Secretary Nominee Former labor secretary nominee Andrew Puzder

CEO Andrew Puzder on Wednesday withdrew his name as President Donald Trump's labor secretary nominee.

America’s public service workers, and all working families, deserve a labor secretary who respects them. Puzder – who has demonstrated nothing but contempt for everything the Labor Department stands for and everyone it exists to serve – was unfit for the job.

“President Trump said throughout his campaign that he would be a great champion for working people. The Puzder nomination called the sincerity of that promise into question. AFSCME members hope that the president will get it right the second time and choose a labor secretary who shares the basic values of working families,” AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders said.

All over the country, working families voiced opposition to Puzder's nomination, and we must keep working to ensure the next labor secretary meets the standards we expect.

One of those working Americans, Alaska public health worker Robert Sewell, told reporters Tuesday that it became increasingly clear that Puzder was unqualified.

In remarks prepared for a media call arranged by the National Employment Law Project, the member of AFSCME Local 52 (Anchorage) said the fast-food magnate hadn’t shown he can “advocate for working men and women in Alaska or in any state.”

“He has shown almost no interest in creating jobs that people can sustain a family on. Because he keeps wages so low and does not provide health care coverage, the people who work in his restaurants have no choice but to rely on public assistance to get healthcare,” according to Sewell’s remarks. “In a Puzder economy, taxpayers pick up the check for the healthcare that corporations refuse to provide. They profit and we pay.”

Go here to read Puzder’s withdrawal statement.

You can find more about Puzder’s background and record here and here

We Must Be Vigilant on Health Care

by Jesse Berney  |  February 15, 2017

We Must Be Vigilant on Health Care Kristie Kennett, nurse and member of AFSCME District Council 89

AFSCME members see the health care system from both sides. Nurses, nursing aides, hospital administrators, home care workers – these are our sisters and brothers on the front lines caring for all of us. Public service workers know how important our public health care system is to keeping our communities healthy and strong.

AFSCME members have a special interest in ensuring that the programs that help millions of Americans afford health care coverage are kept strong and intact. Programs like the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and Medicare are critical to keeping the people we serve healthy. Many AFSCME members also rely on these programs for their own health care, especially Medicare.

But these programs are in real danger and big cuts are possible in the coming years, months, and even weeks. 

Last Friday, Tom Price was sworn in as the new secretary of Health and Human Services. AFSCME members should keep a close eye on the actions of his department, the Trump White House and congressional leaders to ensure that they protect the health care programs that we and the people we serve rely on.

Cuts to these programs would have a direct impact on AFSCME members. For example, while most AFSCME members enjoy employer-provided health care coverage, the Affordable Care Act raises standards of care for everyone. It allows children to stay on their parents’ plans until they are 26 and ensures that all preventive care and checkups are available with no copays. And it prevents insurance companies from denying coverage for preexisting conditions.

A repeal of ACA, especially without a serious replacement plan, would throw our health care system into chaos, raising rates across the board and forcing 30 million people to give up coverage they received because of the law.

If the federal government cuts Medicaid spending, that will force budget cuts on states across the board – and that can have a direct impact on the services AFSCME members provide. Medicaid cuts can lead to reduced hours, hiring freezes and even layoffs among state and local employees.

AFSCME members who work with the most vulnerable members of society know how important Medicaid is. It’s a lifeline for seniors, the poor and people with disabilities. It pays for critical services like home care.

Most of us either depend on Medicare or plan to someday. It’s a lifeline for retirees, helping keep millions of seniors out of poverty. Privatizing or otherwise cutting Medicare would be a disaster for AFSCME members, retirees and the people we work so hard to serve. We cannot allow that to happen.

As a Georgia congressman, Price supported raising Medicare’s eligibility age and other changes that would make the program less effective. He supported cuts to Medicaid and is a proponent of repealing the Affordable Care Act.

This agenda could put millions of jobs – and lives – at risk. Our economy, our communities, and our values are at stake, and it’s up to us to protect them all.

EXTRA! for February 14, 2017

by AFSCME Staff  |  February 14, 2017

Here are some stories of interest to working people: 

Union Growth

Union Vote at Boeing Plant Tests Labor’s Sway Under Trump
By Noam Scheiber and Christopher Drew, New York Times, February 13, 217

Boeing came to South Carolina more than seven years ago to establish a second assembly line for its 787 Dreamliner aircraft. At least part of the attraction, analysts said, was the area’s lightly unionized labor force — giving the company more leverage over the union at its main operations outside Seattle.  Now that equation is being put to the test. Workers here will vote Wednesday on whether to unionize, an early test of organized labor’s strength in the Trump era. 

AFSCME is growing, though most other unions are struggling with membership declines.

Labor History

Unions owe debt to black women
By Steph Solis, USA Today, February 13, 2017

In the depths of the Great Depression, thousands of minority women across the country joined the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. Among the most active — and today largely forgotten — members were the women of Local 22 in New York City. … Historians say their efforts attracted tens of thousands of African Americans and Hispanics to unions and laid the groundwork for the peak of the civil rights movement.

“Right to Work”                   

'Right-to-work' bill introduced in Ohio House
By Jackie Borchardt, Cleveland Plain-Dealer, February 13, 2017 

Legislation that would make Ohio a "right-to-work" state is back, but it's unclear how far the controversial measure will go after voters rejected a prior effort to scale back public union bargaining rights. 

AFSCME’s take on the “right-to-work” philosophy? It’s a scam.

Hypocrisy Alert

Donald Trump Requested 64 Foreign Guest Workers For His 'Winter White House'
By Tim Fernholz, Government Executive, February 13, 2017

One way Trump is maximizing profits? He got permission from the U.S. Department of Labor to hire 64 foreign guest workers to wait on his guests, cook their food and clean their rooms during the winter high season in Florida. Trump had applied to bring in these workers while promising during his presidential campaign to kick undocumented immigrants out of the United States and block imports. 

Paying the “Price” for New HHS Secretary

by Lee Saunders  |  February 14, 2017

Throughout his campaign, President Trump insisted that he would keep America’s promise to its retirees by not cutting Medicare or Social Security. But when it came to choosing a Secretary of Health and Human Services, he looked to Rep. Tom Price, who has shown an enthusiasm for shredding the health care safety net, with little regard for the economic security of older Americans.

Price, whom the Senate confirmed late last week, embraces tax cuts for the wealthy, while advocating Social Security cuts that could drive seniors into poverty. He supports increasing the Medicare eligibility age. Even worse, he wants to convert Medicare from a guaranteed benefit into a voucher that would have declining purchasing power each year, leading to escalating out-of-pocket health costs for seniors.

Medicaid is also in jeopardy under Secretary Price. The drastic cuts he supports would hurt our most vulnerable populations: the poor, people with disabilities, people in nursing homes and those receiving care in their homes. Medicaid cuts also threaten the jobs of tens of thousands of AFSCME members and others working in health care occupations. And less money for Medicaid would force states to cut back on other essential public services – education, transportation, law enforcement and more – that sustain communities and support good jobs.

If that’s not bad enough, Price was one of the most ferocious congressional opponents of the Affordable Care Act. Repeal of the ACA, something President Trump did endorse in his campaign, would eventually leave 30 million people out in the cold, without the health coverage they need, one accident or illness away from financial ruin.

People who work hard and sacrifice their whole lives have every right to expect a dignified retirement and the ability to afford a doctor’s visit. Secretary Price apparently disagrees. He believes medical coverage should be for the healthy and wealthy, beyond the reach of ordinary working people and retirees.

These are extreme views, which violate the basic social contract. And they are largely inconsistent with the rhetoric of the Trump campaign, which pledged to lift up working families and protect the programs they depend on. The evidence is mounting that Donald Trump, although he ran for president as a populist, is prepared to be a president for the privileged and powerful.

Lee Saunders is the President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), AFL-CIO. This entry is cross-posted from The Huffington Post.

Playing Politics with a Child’s Life

by Anders Lindall, AFSCME Council 31  |  February 13, 2017

Meet Kenea Williams, an Illinois state employee whose infant son requires oxygen due to complications stemming from his premature birth. Her baby’s life could be in jeopardy as her state’s governor plays politics.

On Feb. 9, KMOV-TV, the CBS affiliate in St. Louis, aired “Fighting for Air,” a story that profiled Williams, a caregiver for people with disabilities at Murray Developmental Center in Centralia.

Because of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s refusal to enact a budget, the state government in September 2015 stopped paying health care providers for claims submitted by state employees. As a result, providers have increasingly forced state workers to pay up front for needed care.

In the case of Williams and her baby boy, the provider of the infant’s oxygen tank tried to repossess it because the state failed to pay its health claims.

Williams is one of about 30,000 AFSCME-represented state workers who would be forced to pay substantially more for their health care if Rauner has his way.  At the same time, Rauner proposes to freeze state worker pay under terms he’s tried to impose on AFSCME since he broke off negotiations more than a year ago.

“By refusing to develop a state budget or settle a fair contract with state workers like Kenea, Bruce Rauner is doing real harm to the people of Illinois,” Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said. “Every lawmaker must stand up and tell the governor to drop his hostage-taking tactics, sign a budget and settle a fair contract with state workers now.”

Kenea is a member of AFSCME Local 401 (Murray Center). AFSCME members throughout Illinois are voting on whether to authorize their bargaining committee to call a strike to resist Rauner’s extreme demands.

To learn about the issues roiling Illinois go here. To read Council 31’s press release on this issue, go here.

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